Everyone said the Whites would be hard and slow hiking but, in just 10 days, I had walked from one edge of New Hampshire to the other, feeling better than ever. Having spent countless hours over the past year checking off high peaks from my NH48 list, I had a sense of comfort and familiarity with this region.
After celebrating my morning exit from Maine last Friday, it was fitting to next summit Mt. Success. I had thrown myself through the ringer navigating the 282 miles across my home state. My mind was so focused each day on pushing past the suck and racking up mileage that, once in NH, I had to take some time with a map to chart out my course and arrange the next resupply locations.
Later on that night, I was joined by my girlfriend Hannah at the Rattle River Shelter where we shopped for supplies at the nearest Walmart and later dined at the local pub. My hiker hunger and gentle charm sparked the bartender to wager a food challenge that I easily won. She clearly underestimated how much of a bottomless pit my stomach has become. Tasked with finishing the entire chicken prosciutto pizza and lamb burger with fries I ordered for my dinner and also eating a big slice of homemade strawberry cake with all the fixings without assistance, I easily won us free beers and dessert. It was quite literally a piece of cake 😉
The following morning, Hannah accompanied me on the trek up to Mt. Moriah. On top of the 4000 footer’s summit we ate lunch, tried feeding the numerous Gray Jays that greeted us, and then said our goodbyes as I continued on south down the AT. I then summited three more 4000 footers that day before setting up camp at a tentsite near the Carter Notch hut.
Realizing that within a few days I would be hitting the Presidential Range including Mt. Washington, my excitement and anxiety levels grew. I had wanted to hike the entire presi-traverse in one day since camping anywhere above treeline along the 15-mile stretch is strictly prohibited and confined only to very pricey mountain huts. Having hiked this section on an eleven-hour day hike last fall, I was aware of the challenge ahead of me.
The next day, after bagging two more 4000 footers (the Wildcats), I stopped at the Pinkham Notch center to recharge my electronics and fill up on some thru-hiker discounted but still heaping full bowls of chili served with fresh wheat bread. While digesting my second helping, I checked the weather, packed up, and then left for the Osgood tentsite. The following day’s forecast called for strong afternoon thunderstorms which complicated my plans for a one-day trek across the Presidential Range. I decided to chance it and left camp at 5:45 the next morning in hopes of ducking for cover in the Mt Washington visitor center while the worst of the storm past overhead.
Hiking up Madison, I caught a brief glimpse of a late sunrise before being engulfed in blowing mist (what I have termed “slow-rain”). After taking a painful slip, I slowed my pace to stay upright and on two feet. Stopping only for a quick coffee break at the Madison hut, I stepped out and back into the soggy chilly air to venture southward since time was of the essence.
In the last mile to Washington, two loaded Cog Railroad cars passed by just as the rain began to intensify. In the low visibility, I pinballed up the mountain from cairn to cairn finally reaching the summit around 11 o’clock to take refuge from the weather. Feasting on cafeteria pizza, chips and soda, I dried off as best I could when I noticed a couple stroll in who I had passed earlier. Noticing they were dripping wet from head to toe, I gave a head nod of acknowledgement as one of them said, “Looks like you missed the hail.!?” Patting myself on the back for my predawn start, I packed up and headed back out into the howling fog. I arrived at the Nauman tentsite a few hours later in high spirits. Completing my traverse right as the clouds broke I laid out my gear in the sun to dry and munched on some fruit snacks with a smile on my face.
Even with this section behind me, I still had ten 4000 footers to summit before leaving New Hampshire. Next up was a gorgeous and sunny trek to Mt Zealand, stopping at Thoreau Falls for a scenic break and spending some time in the Zealand Notch chatting with a local day hiker. The next day tackling South Twin, Garfield, Lafayette, Lincoln and Liberty was a breeze, albeit more of a gusty cold wind than a breeze 😉 . As luck would have it, the internet plus trail magic landed me a free and calorie filled ride into town for a much needed resupply.
Knowing I had five more days before reaching the western edge of New Hampshire, I spent the night at the Notch Hostel to clean up and pig out. Given the lack of shuttle options and my economic efficiency (I’m cheap) I decided to take a loaner bike into town. Six pedaled miles later I returned to my place of lodging with food in hand and a nagging concern. I wondered if, since I had the energy to ride a bike after a day spent hiking 17 miles, maybe I have some weird form of restless leg syndrome? I never did get around to checking WebMD on that…oh well.
Trail Angels were in abundance the following days. I was joined by my good friend Kris and her son Ronin at the summit of Mt. Moosilauke on Friday for some snacks, trail talk and of course laughter. Then on Saturday, my Aunt’s family met me at a road crossing for a huge bacon cheeseburger lunch that I polished off with chocolate milk, beer and hard boiled eggs. Leaving feeling stuffed, I hiked south together with my aunt and uncle for awhile. Sharing my time on the trail with people I know and love adds a layer of support that helps me get through the harder days when it is just me and the miles ahead.
Moosilauke marks the end of the White Mountains and the shift in terrain was noticeable to say the least. Wider less mountainous trail combined with soft forest floor meant the next two days were more easily accomplished than anything from the month prior. So by Monday morning around 11am, I leisurely waltzed through downtown Hanover with pep in my step, smiling brightly back at the curious and confused faces of the crowds enjoying their Labor Day holiday along Main Street because I knew that just down the block I would be entering the third state on my southbound AT hike.
Stepping over an imaginary invisible line dividing the two New England neighbors felt amazing. Suspended high above the river, a polished granite plaque signified the end of one state and beginning of another. I had proven to myself that I can “walk the walk” as the saying goes. Joy filled my being as once again Hannah’s cheerful gaze caught my eye. With celebratory photos and sweaty hugs out of the way, we proceeded to enjoy the rest of our day together in Hanover. I zeroed the next day to sight-see and recoup before heading out on the trail to take on Vermont.